Alcoholism emerges from alcohol abuse, when there’s a pattern of drinking despite negative consequences, in which no one test that can medically diagnose. The severity of the disorder lies on a spectrum, ranging from mild to severe dependence.  It is a diverse and complicated disease, and there are many factors that can make one person more vulnerable than another to suffer from it. The majority of time, the diagnoses of alcoholism is a guess, if indeed such a diagnosis actually exists. Medically, it is considered both a physical and mental illness.

Alcoholism has serious adverse effects on brain function; on average it takes one year of abstinence to recover from the cognitive deficits incurred by chronic alcohol abuse. Social skills are significantly impaired due to the neurotoxic effects of alcohol on the brain, especially the prefrontal cortex area of the brain. Alcoholism reduces a person’s life expectancy by around ten years and alcohol use is the third leading cause of early death in the United States. Someone with a parent or sibling with alcoholism is three to four times more likely to become an alcoholic themselves, but only a minority of them do.

Benzodiazepines, while useful in the management of acute alcohol withdrawal, if used long-term can cause a worse outcome in those addicted to alcohol.  The best way to avoid some of the worst health repercussions is to seek alcohol treatment as soon as possible.  Since alcoholism involves multiple factors which encourage a person to continue drinking, they must all be addressed to successfully prevent a relapse. Much of the treatment community supports an abstinence-based zero tolerance approach; however, some prefer a harm-reduction approach.

If you’re ready to stop drinking and willing to get the support you need, you can recover from alcoholism and alcohol abuse—no matter how heavy your drinking or how powerless you feel.  Several levels of care are available to treat alcoholism.

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